Jean is working with the British Judo Association on its history, and thinking about the early days of British Judo, and its links with Ju jitsu. I am particularly grateful to Amanda Callan-Spenn for information from her PhD thesis on the life of Sarah Mayer, the first Western female Judo black belt, in the summary that follows. You can hear more about Amanda’s work through the British Library site here and read more in an article here.
Although now Olympic sports, Japanese martial arts have a strong link with history and tradition. In 1882, Jigorō Kanō based his new form of judo on existing techniques of jūjutsu, soon establishing a school which he named the Kōdōkan, or the place to study the way. Kanō was, above all, an educator, working with the Ministry of Education, and understanding that physical education was an integral part of overall well being.
Judo, translated to ju-soft/gentle/pliancy, do-the way, or method. The technique involved breaking the opponent’s stance past equilibrium as its key skill, requiring a minimum of force to obtain a maximum effect, so that the opponent’s body weight was used against them. So Judo, and Kendo, which uses bamboo batons to mimic swordcraft, were more modern versions of older pastimes and fighting skills. Although modern sporting rules and enthusiasms were being crafted at this time, Judo therefore looked both backwards and forwards in its references. It had aspects of Japanese martial arts, but it was also about cultivating a sense of personal educational culture. Jigorō Kanō is quoted by Gunji Koizumi, as having said, ‘judo in reality is not a mere sport or game. I regard it as a principle of life, art and science. In fact, it is a means for personal cultural attainment’. Kanō founded the Kōdōkan Judo Institute, and enrolment grew from a dozen apprentices in 1882 to over a thousand Dan-graded enthusiasts by 1911.
The Budokwai was founded in 1918 by Gunji Koizumi, at Lower Grosvenor Place, close to Buckingham Palace, and the head coach was later to become Yukio Tani. During this time, Judo began increasingly to have its own rules, and practices, spreading with other Japanese influences from trade to clothing, art and merchandise as this sea-going nation increased its international profile in the Meiji Era.
Judo’s international popularity was partly due to the Japanese Empire’s defeat of the Russian Empire, in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-5 over parts of Manchuria and Korean peninsula. It was considered that the ‘scientific’ methods of fighting were responsible for Japan’s superiority, over a larger naval fighting force, and this shaped it in the popular imagination. Hence the publication of contemporary titles such as William Bankier, Ju-jitsu: What it Really is (London: Apollo’s Magazine 1905).
However, interest had been growing since 1899, when Yukio Tani came to England for the first time to work in the music halls with manager and founder of ‘Bartitsu’, Edward Barton-Wright. Tani travelled from Japan with his brother and was joined later by Yamamoto, but he alone settled. Barton-Wright worked with a range of collaborators, including Uyenishi Sadakazu, known on the stage as Raku, who began to teach women such as Phoebe Roberts and Emily Watts in the early 1900s, and is quoted as saying in 'The Miscellany’ Gloucestershire Echo 11 April 1904:
Balance and quickness will always win, and women are always quick. When a great storm sweeps through the forest the heavy and sturdy trees suffer most. The smaller plants possessing plenty of elasticity can withstand the storm because they offer the least resistance to the opposing force. It is so with Ju-jitsu. It is the only system in the world which could enable an ordinary woman to defeat a strong man.
In 1905, Phoebe Roberts appeared at Buckingham Palace along with Japanese male jūjutsuka, for a visit by Prince and Princess Arisugawa of Japan. Meanwhile, The Lady’s Realm held a chapter on ‘Jujitsu for Ladies’ giving a fascinating insight into the early lessons for women in Britain held by Uyenishi. Thus, judo or jūjutsu was being marketed to women as well as men, with newspaper headlines like ‘Jujitsu, the Art by which a Woman can Throw the Strongest Man.’ Like Japan’s defeat of Russia, this was a powerful metaphor, that technique and expertise could out-perform larger forces.
The rise in popularity of jūjutsu for women in Britain at this time was borne out of political civil disobedience and ‘cat and mouse’ relations with the police. The women’s suffrage movement was at the peak of its confrontational aggression between 1910 and 1913, and militant suffragettes needed self-defence techniques to protect themselves, not only from the police, but mobs of anti-suffrage campaigners.
In 1913, Sylvia Pankhurst was quoted in the New York Times 20 August 1913 saying that militancy was a good training aid: ‘We have not yet made ourselves a match for the police, and we have got to do it. The police know jiu-jitsu. I advise you to learn jiu-jitsu. Women should practice it as well as men.’ Early jūdōka in Britain were often from similarly upper-class origins.
A bodyguard was formed of women trained in jūjutsu by Edith Garrud. These protectors accompanied the Pankhursts and other prominent suffragette leaders to meetings or marches, sneakily subverting contemporary codes of etiquette. Garrud also had a strong taste for the theatrical, both staging practice sessions in front of the media, and through the suffragette play, What Every Woman Ought to Know in which she choreographed the fight scenes in 1911.
The Budokwai, or Way of Knighthood Society, was a Japanese institution founded in London in 1918, by Gunji Koizumi. Its members engaged with Japanese culture and physical education. A membership list at The Bowen Collection, which Amanda Callan-Spenn references in her research, from 28 January 1918 to early April 1929 shows that, forty four women enrolled, and Katherine Augusta White Cooper was the first female, and sixtieth person, to join the Budokwai in 1919. So that gives an overall sense of the size of the membership. As to its social constitution, Cooper was the daughter of a physician, William George Owen White Cooper and his wife, Catherine Clarissa. Another member, Christmas Humphreys, who later became a prominent member of the legal profession, was an advocate of Eastern culture, and in 1924 she founded the Buddhist Society, then known as the London Buddhist Society.
Membership grew steadily rather than rapidly, and the social mix may have been the reason for this. In 1920 there were forty new male members and twenty-four new female. This compares with 1919, where twenty men and two women joined.
jjheritage will be including more Judo content in 2021, so if you have more information please reach out and let us know. Maybe your relative or family friend was a pioneering martial arts expert? Thanks again to Amanda for her expertise in helping with this post.
Posts written by Jean or Joanna.